, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 1317–1346 | Cite as

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night: The Effect of Retirement on Subsequent Mortality of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, 1801–2006

  • Ross M. Stolzenberg


Mortality hazard and length of time until death are widely used as health outcome measures and are themselves of fundamental demographic interest. Considerable research has asked whether labor force retirement reduces subsequent health and its mortality measures. Previous studies have reported positive, negative, and null effects of retirement on subsequent longevity and mortality hazard, but inconsistent findings are difficult to resolve because (1) nearly all data confound retirement with unemployment of older workers, and often, (2) endogeneity bias is rarely addressed analytically. To avoid these problems, albeit at loss of generalizability to the entire labor force, I examine data from an exceptional subgroup that is of interest in its own right: U.S. Supreme Court justices of 1801–2006. Using discrete-time event history methods, I estimate retirement effects on mortality hazard and years-left-alive. Some substantive and methodological considerations suggest models that specify endogenous effects estimated by instrumental variables (IV) probit, IV Tobit, and IV regression methods. Other considerations suggest estimation by endogenous switching (ES) probit and ES regression. Estimates by all these methods are consistent with the hypothesis that, on average, retirement decreases health, as indicated by elevated mortality hazard and diminished years-left-alive. These findings may apply to other occupational groups characterized by high levels of work autonomy, job satisfaction, and financial security.


Mortality Health Retirement Employment Supreme court 



Thanks for advice and criticism go to James Lindgren, without whom this article would not have been possible, and to Robert Willis, Kenneth Land, anonymous reviewers, and members of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Center for Research on Demography and Ecology. The author is responsible for all remaining errors and omissions.

Supplementary material

13524_2011_65_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (148 kb)
13524_2011_65_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (157 kb)


  1. Abel, E., & Kruger, M. (2005). The longevity of baseball Hall of Famers compared to other players. Death Studies, 29, 959–963.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison, P. D. (1995). Survival analysis using the SAS system: A practical guide. Cary, NC: SAS Institute.Google Scholar
  3. Amemiya, T. (1985). Advanced econometrics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. American Heritage. (1996). The American Heritage dictionary of the English language (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, K. H. (1985). The effect of mandatory retirement on mortality. Journal of Economics and Business, 37, 81–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ashenfelter, O., & Card, D. (2002). Did the elimination of mandatory retirement affect faculty retirement? The American Economic Review, 92, 957–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berkman, L. F. (1995). The role of social relations in health promotion. Psychosomatic Medicine, 57, 245–254.Google Scholar
  8. Berkman, L. F., & Glass, T. (2000). Social integration, social networks, social support, and health. In L. F. Berkman & I. Kawachi (Eds.), Social epidemiology (pp. 137–173). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Berkman, L. F., & Syme, S. L. (1979). Social networks, host resistance, and mortality: A nine-year follow-up study of Alameda County residents. American Journal of Epidemiology, 109, 186–204.Google Scholar
  10. Binder, D. A. (1983). On the variances of asymptotically normal estimators from complex surveys. International Statistical Review, 51, 279–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Blazer, D. G. (1982). Social support and mortality in an elderly community population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 115, 684–694.Google Scholar
  12. Bortz, W. M., II. (1984). The disuse syndrome. Western Journal of Medicine, 141, 691–694.Google Scholar
  13. Bound, J. (1991). Self-reported versus objective measures of health in retirement models. Journal of Human Resources, 26, 106–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Buchner, D. M., Beresford, S. A. A., Larson, E. B., LaCroix, A. Z., & Wagner, E. H. (1992). Effects of physical activity on health status in older adults II: Intervention studies. Annual Review of Public Health, 13, 469–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Calabresi, S. G., & Lindgren, J. (2006). Term limits for the Supreme Court: Life tenure reconsidered. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 29, 770–877.Google Scholar
  16. Camacho, T. C., Roberts, R. E., Lazarus, N. B., Kaplan, G. A., & Cohen, R. D. (1991). Physical activity and depression: Evidence from the Alameda County Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 134, 220–231.Google Scholar
  17. Cameron, J. R. (2003). Longevity is the most appropriate measure of health effects of radiation. Radiology, 229, 14–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Skoner, D. P., Rabin, B. S., & Gwaltney, J. M. (1997). Social ties and susceptibility to the common cold. Journal of the American Medical Association, 277, 1940–1944.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cohen, S., & Syme, S. L. (1985). Social support and health. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  20. Colantonio, A., Kasl, S. V., Ostfeld, A. M., & Berkman, L. F. (1993). Psychosocial predictors of stroke outcome in an elderly population. Journal of Gerontology, 48, 261–268.Google Scholar
  21. Crimmins, E. M., Hayward, M. D., & Saito, Y. (1994). Changing mortality and morbidity rates and the health status and life expectancy of the older population. Demography, 31, 119–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Farmer, M. E., Locke, B. Z., Moscicki, E. K., Dannenberg, A. L., Larson, D. B., & Radloff, L. S. (1988). Physical activity and depressive symptoms: The NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 128, 1340–1351.Google Scholar
  23. Federal Judicial Center. (n.d.). Biographical directory of federal judges. Retrieved from
  24. Feng, Z., McLerran, D., & Grizzle, J. (1998). A comparison of statistical methods for clustered data analysis with Gaussian error. Statistics in Medicine, 15, 1793–1806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Field, C. A., & Welsh, A. H. (2007). Bootstrapping clustered data. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B (Statistical Methodology), 69, 369–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fletcher, B. C. (1983). Marital relationships as a cause of death: An analysis of occupational mortality and the hidden consequences of marriage—Some U.K. data. Human Relations, 36, 123–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fletcher, B. C. (1988). Occupation, marriage and disease-specific mortality concordance. Social Science & Medicine, 27, 615–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fries, J. F. (2005). The compression of morbidity. The Milbank Quarterly, 83, 801–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Garrow, D. J. (2000). Mental decrepitude on the U.S. Supreme Court: The historical case for a 28th amendment. University of Chicago Law Review, 67, 995–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gavrilov, L. A., & Gavrilova, N. S. (2001). Biodemographic study of familial determinants of human longevity. Population: An English Selection, 13, 197–222.Google Scholar
  31. Gerdtham, U. G., & Johannesson, M. (2003). A note on the effect of unemployment on mortality. Journal of Health Economics, 22, 505–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gilmour, S. G., & Trinca, L. A. (2005). Fractional polynomial response surface models. Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics, 10, 50–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gokhale, J. (2004, September 9). Mandatory retirement age rules: Is it time to re-evaluate? Testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. Retrieved from
  34. Guralnik, L. (1962). Mortality by occupation and industry among men 20 to 64 years of age: United States 1950. Vital Statistics: Special Reports 53(2). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  35. Gustman, A., Mitchell, O. S., & Steinmeier, T. L. (1995). Retirement measures in the Health and Retirement Study. Journal of Human Resources, 30, S57–S83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gustman, A. L., & Steinmeier, T. L. (2000). Retirement outcomes in the Health and Retirement Study (NBER Working Paper No. 7588). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  37. Handwerker, E. W. (2007). Nixing the notch: The effects of the Social Security notch on overall incomes, labor supply, and mortality in retirement (Working paper). Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.Google Scholar
  38. Hayward, M., Grady, W., Hardy, M., & Sommers, D. (1989). Occupational influences on retirement, disability, and death. Demography, 26, 393–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hayward, M. D., & Hardy, M. A. (1985). Early retirement processes among older men: Occupational differences. Research on Aging, 7, 491–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hjorth, U. (1980). A reliability distribution with increasing, decreasing, constant and bathtub-shaped failure rates. Technometrics, 22, 99–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. House, J. S., Kessler, R. C., & Herzog, A. R. (1990). Age, socioeconomic status, and health. The Milbank Quarterly, 68, 383–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241, 540–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Idler, E. L., & Benyamini, Y. (1997). Self-rated health and mortality: A review of twenty-seven community studies. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 38, 21–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Johnson, N., Sorlie, P., & Backlund, E. (1999). The impact of specific occupation on mortality in the U.S. National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Demography, 36, 355–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kitagawa, E. M., & Hauser, P. M. (1973). Differential mortality in the United States: A study in socioeconomic epidemiology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Korpelainen, H. (2000). Fitness, reproduction and longevity among European aristocratic and rural Finnish families in the 1700s and 1800s. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 267, 1765–1770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Leahey, E. (2005). Alphas and asterisks: The development of statistical significance testing standards in sociology. Social Forces, 84, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Linn, M., Sandifer, R., & Stein, S. (1985). Effects of unemployment on mental and physical health. American Journal of Public Health, 75, 502–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Litwin, H. (2007). Does early retirement lead to longer life? Ageing & Society, 27, 739–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lumsdaine, R. (1995). Factors affecting labor supply decisions and retirement income (NBER Working Paper No. 5223). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau for Economic Research.Google Scholar
  51. Manton, K. G., Stallard, E., Woodbury, M. A., & Dowd, J. E. (1994). Time varying covariates of human mortality and aging: Multidimensional generalizations of the Gompertz. Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, 49, B169–B190.Google Scholar
  52. Mare, R. D., & Winship, C. (1988). Endogenous switching regression models for the causes and effects of discrete variables. In J. S. Long (Ed.), Common problems/proper solutions: Avoiding error in quantitative research (pp. 132–160). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Marks, N. F., & Shinberg, D. S. (1997). Socioeconomic differences in hysterectomy: The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Public Health, 87, 1507–1514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Marmot, M., & Theorell, T. (1988). Social class and cardiovascular disease: The contribution of work. International Journal of Health Services, 18, 659–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Marmot, M., & Wilkinson, R. G. (Eds.). (1999). Social determinants of health. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. McCann, J. C. (1972). Differential mortality and the formation of political elites: The case of the House of Representatives. American Sociological Review, 37, 689–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. McCullagh, P. (2000). Resampling and exchangeable arrays. Bernoulli, 6, 285–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McMahan, C. A., Folger, J. K., & Fotis, S. W. (1956). Retirement and length of life. Social Forces, 34, 234–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mein, G., Martikainen, P., Hemingway, H., Stansfeld, S., & Marmot, M. (2003). Is retirement good or bad for mental and physical health functioning? Whitehall II longitudinal study of civil servants. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 57, 46–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Moen, P., Kim, J. E., & Hofmeister, H. (2001). Couples’ work/retirement transitions, gender, and marital quality. Social Psychology Quarterly, 64, 55–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Morris, J. K., Cook, D. G., & Shaper, A. G. (1994). Loss of employment and mortality. BMJ, 308, 1135–1139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Munch, J. R., & Svarer, M. (2005). Mortality and socio-economic differences in Denmark: A competing risks proportional hazard model. Economics and Human Biology, 3, 17–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (1997). Family caregiving in the U.S.: Findings from a national survey. Washington, DC: National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP.Google Scholar
  64. Parsons, D. O. (1980a). The decline of male labor force participation. Journal of Political Economy, 88, 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Parsons, D. O. (1980b). Racial trends in male labor force participation. The American Economic Review, 70, 911–920.Google Scholar
  66. Parsons, D. O. (1982). The male labor force participation decision: Health, reported health, and economic incentives. Economica, 49, 81–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Peter, R., Geissler, H., & Siegrist, J. (1998). Associations of effort-reward imbalance at work and reported symptoms in different groups of male and female public transport workers. Stress Medicine, 14, 175–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Peter, R., Siegrist, J., Hallqvist, J., Reuterwall, C., & Theorell, T. (2002). Psychosocial work environment and myocardial infarction: Improving risk estimation by combining two complementary job stress models in the SHEEP Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 56, 294–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Polivka, A., & Rothgeb, J. (1993). Redesigning the CPS questionnaire. Monthly Labor Review, 116, 10–28.Google Scholar
  70. Preston, S. (1977). Mortality trends. Annual Review of Sociology, 3, 163–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  72. Quandt, R. (1972). A new approach to estimating switching regression. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 67, 306–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Quint, J. V., & Cody, B. R. (1970). Preeminence and mortality: Longevity of prominent men. American Journal of Public Health, 60, 1118–1124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Raymo, J. M., & Sweeney, M. M. (2006). Work–family conflict and retirement preferences. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 61B, S161–S169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Raymo, J. M., Warren, J. R., Sweeney, M. M., Hauser, R. M., & Ho, J.-H. (2008). Mid-life work experiences and first retirement (CDE Working Paper No. 2008–14). Madison: Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin–Madison.Google Scholar
  76. Redelmeier, D. A., & Singh, S. M. (2001a). Longevity of screenwriters who win an academy award: A longitudinal study. BMJ, 323, 1491–1496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Redelmeier, D. A., & Singh, S. M. (2001b). Survival of academy award winning actors and actresses. Annals of Internal Medicine, 134, 955–962.Google Scholar
  78. Reinhard, S. C., & Horwitz, A. V. (1995). Caregiver burden: Differentiating the content and consequences of family caregiving. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 741–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Reno, V. (1971). Why men stop working at or before age sixty-five. Social Security Bulletin, 34, 3–16.Google Scholar
  80. Rogers, R. G., Hummer, R. A., Krueger, P. M., & Pampel, F. C. (2005). Mortality attributable to cigarette smoking in the United States. Population and Development Review, 31, 259–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Rones, P. (1985). Using the CPS to track retirement trends among older men. Monthly Labor Review, 108, 46–49.Google Scholar
  82. Royston, P., & Altman, D. G. (1994). Regression using fractional polynomials of continuous covariates. Applied Statistics, 3, 429–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Schwab, K. (1974). Early labor force withdrawal of men: Participants and non-participants aged 58–63. Social Security Bulletin, 37, 24–38.Google Scholar
  84. Seeman, T. E., Kaplan, G., Knudson, L., Cohen, R., & Guralnik, J. (1987). Social network ties and mortality among the elderly in the Alameda County Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 126, 714–723.Google Scholar
  85. Shang, B., & Goldman, D. (2008). Does age or life expectancy better predict health care expenditures? Health Economics, 17, 487–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Sherman, S. R. (1985). Reported reasons retired workers left their last job: Findings from the New Beneficiary Survey. Social Security Bulletin, 48, 22–30.Google Scholar
  87. Sickles, R., & Taubman, P. (1986). An analysis of the health and retirement status of the elderly. Econometrica, 54, 1339–1356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Siegrist, J., Peter, R., Cremer, P., & Seidel, D. (1997). Chronic work stress is associated with atherogenic lipids and elevated fibrinogen in middle-aged men. Journal of Internal Medicine, 242, 149–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Siegrist, J., Peter, R., Junge, A., Cremer, P., & Seidel, D. (1990). Low status control, high effort at work and ischemic heart disease: Prospective evidence from blue-collar men. Social Science & Medicine, 31, 1127–1134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Snyder, S. E., & Evans, W. N. (2006). The effect of income on mortality: Evidence from the social security notch. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 88, 482–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Society of Actuaries (SOA). (1992). Transactions of society of actuaries: 1991–92 reports: Report of the retirement plans experience committee: Mortality among members of uninsured pension systems. Schaumburg, IL: Author.Google Scholar
  92. Sorokin, P. (1925). Monarchs and rulers: A comparative statistical study. Social Forces, 4, 22–35.Google Scholar
  93. Stansfeld, S., Feeney, A., Head, J., Canner, R., North, F., & Marmot, M. (1995). Sickness absence for psychiatric illness: The Whitehall II. Social Science & Medicine, 40, 189–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Stolzenberg, R. M. (1989). Job quits in empirical and theoretical perspective. In A. Kalleberg (Ed.), Research in social stratification and mobility (pp. 99–130). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  95. Stolzenberg, R. M. (2006). Multiple regression analysis. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  96. Stolzenberg, R. M., & Lindgren, J. (2010). Retirement and death in office of U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Demography, 47, 269–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Toobin, J. (2007). The nine. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  98. Treas, J. (1977). A life table for postwar Senate careers: A research note. Social Forces, 56, 202–207.Google Scholar
  99. Tsai, S. P., Wendt, J. K., Donnelly, R. P., de Jong, G., & Ahmed, F. S. (2005). Age at retirement and long term survival of an industrial population: Prospective cohort study. BMJ, 331, 995–997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. U.S. Census Bureau. (2007). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2008 (127th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  101. U.S. Supreme Court. 2006. Members of the Supreme Court (1789 to present). Retrieved from
  102. USA Today. (2007, July 31). Justices judge if health keeps them from work. Retrieved from
  103. Voss, M., Nylen, L., Floderus, B., Diderichsen, F., & Terry, P. D. (2004). Unemployment and early cause-specific mortality: A study based on the Swedish Twin Registry. American Journal of Public Health, 94, 2155–2161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Wagner, E. H., LaCroix, A. Z., Buchner, D. M., & Larson, E. B. (1992). Effects of physical activity on health status in older adults I: Observational studies. Annual Review of Public Health, 13, 451–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Waldron, H. (2001). Links between early retirement and mortality (ORES Working Paper Series No. 93). Baltimore, MD: Social Security Administration, Office of Policy, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics.Google Scholar
  106. Waldron, H. (2002). Do early retirees die early? Evidence from three independent data sets (ORES Working Paper No. 97). Baltimore, MD: Social Security Administration, Office of Policy, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics.Google Scholar
  107. Waterbor, J., Cole, P., Delzell, E., & Jelkovich, D. (1988). The mortality experience of Major-League Baseball players. The New England Journal of Medicine, 318, 1278–1280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Williams, J. (1990). The Thurgood Marshall nobody knows. Ebony, 68–75.Google Scholar
  109. Woodward, B., & Armstrong, S. (1979). The brethren: Inside the Supreme Court. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  110. Yamaguchi, K. (1991). Event history analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  111. Yoon, A. (2006). Pensions, politics, and judicial tenure: An empirical study of federal judges, 1869–2002. American Law and Economics Review, 8, 143–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Zernike, K. (2007, November 18). Still many-splendored; Love in the time of dementia. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  113. Zuckerman, D. M., Kasl, S. V., & Ostfeld, A. M. (1984). Psychosocial predictors of mortality among the elderly poor: The role of religion, well-being and social contacts. American Journal of Epidemiology, 119, 410–423.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations